Dr Mawhinney was speaking following a visit to MAPS – Military and Police Support of West Tyrone – at their drop-in centre in Omagh. With over 900 members, the volunteer-based award-winning charity is dedicated to providing a range of support services to former police officers, military personnel, and their partners, who suffered different kinds of trauma, and ongoing related issues, as a result of The Troubles under Operation Banner 1969-2007, the longest continuous campaign undertaken by the British Army.
Co-founded in 2011 by former service personnel Richard Scott and Margo Hetherington, both of whom have been awarded MBEs for their work, Mrs Hetherington welcomed Dr Mawhinney, his wife Karen, and Rev Jane Nelson of First Omagh Presbyterian Church, to MAPS. “Much of our work is unseen, which is why we so very much appreciated the visit of the Moderator, which gave us an opportunity to talk about what we do and how we are able to meet the needs and support those who served the community during so very difficult and dangerous times,” she said.
“For all of us at MAPS it is all about the health and well-being of our former colleagues. Both Richard and I served during those times, and had Post Traumatic Stress Disorder as a result. When we started MAPS, we had another shared issue, in that when we left the service, we had no support. For many of those that we help today, we are finding that it is only now that they are coming forward, even after 40 years.
Mrs Hetherington continued, “For those who need our support, we are here for them. It could be financial advice, medical or emotional support. We have a trained welfare advice volunteer, who can give what we call, ‘low level advice and support’, and where necessary we signpost those who come to us to other partners, like WAVE Trauma. We also have trained volunteer befrienders who provide structured emotional support for those living alone, in social isolation, or dealing with a range of issues. We are very proud of our volunteers,” she said.
Dr Mawhinney was in the town as part of his week-long pastoral tour of the Presbytery of Omagh, one of PCI’s 19 regional presbyteries, which takes in west Tyrone, and all of County Fermanagh. Across 30 engagements, presbytery tours are primarily an opportunity for Moderators to encourage the local church in their Christian mission and outreach in the service of Jesus. The tours are also opportunities to visit schools, businesses, voluntary organisations like MAPS, and preach in different local congregations.
Earlier that morning, Dr Mawhinney visited the Omagh Memorial Garden, which is dedicated to the memory of the 29 people who were killed in the bomb explosion that took place on 15 August 1998. During the Moderator’s visit to MAPS he met a number police officers who shared their experiences of being on duty that day.
“The work that is being done by MAPS, which has won numerous awards for its work, is second to none. There are many who are still living with the pain of having lost loved ones during The Troubles, particularly in west Tyrone. Police officers on duty, like Mrs Hetherington’s father, those off duty, or those in the RUC Reserve, soldiers in the UDR, or part-time members, as they worked on their farms, for example, many from our own Presbyterian family,” he said.
“As someone who spent time as a doctor before I became a minister, I was impressed by the range of services that MAPS offers, especially the low-level support. Their work, especially for those who have never had help, or even talked about the mental health issues they have faced over the years as a result of the trauma that they experienced, which can resurface at any time, is invaluable and ongoing.”
Dr Mawhinney concluded by saying, “After the attempt on the life of Detective Chief Inspector John Caldwell in February, we heard that MAPS had 12 referrals from former police officers for support. We also heard that a special group had been set up by MAPS for those who may give evidence to the forthcoming independent inquiry into the preventability of the Omagh Bomb. Having lived with the events of 25 years ago, the prospect of an inquiry has brought what happened all back.
“I would like to thank Margo and her colleagues for the welcome that we were given and the work that they do on behalf of so many. In these days before Remembrance Sunday, it was certainly a poignant reminder of where we have come from and the support that so many still need. It was also a privilege to commit the volunteers and their work, to God, during a time of prayer,” he said.
Photos: (1) The Moderator at the MAPS drop in centre in Omagh, left to right are former service personnel, Francie Pancott, James Baxter QPM DL and Margo Hetherington MBE, who co-founded MAPS, Dr and Mrs Mawhinney, with MAPS vice chair, Cyril Monteith and Nicola Scott (2) Rev Robert Herron, Clerk of the Presbytery of Omagh with the Moderator and Mrs Mawhinney in the Omagh Memorial Garden.